Newburgh Heritage

Newburgh, Be Mine – 4Ever

By Mary McTamaney
Posted 2/17/24

After yesterday, there are still small dishes of valentine treats in many of our homes: red-wrapped candies, heart-shaped cookies, ripe red raspberries or strawberries, maybe dipped in chocolate. …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in
Newburgh Heritage

Newburgh, Be Mine – 4Ever


After yesterday, there are still small dishes of valentine treats in many of our homes: red-wrapped candies, heart-shaped cookies, ripe red raspberries or strawberries, maybe dipped in chocolate. Looking around the house and out the window to the wider neighborhood made me think of the ways Newburgh itself is my valentine. Why should we, its citizens, all embrace its story?

We stuck together, often when we were in harm’s way. Our first civilian government was a Committee of Safety organized in 1775 to be ready to lead and defend ourselves in case of British attack. Our citizens met in private homes to plan how we could survive if invaded and how we could save what treasure we had and salvage enough to live after a war. We formed a fire safety company in 1797 to protect our people and our property. In the days of open hearths, fire was a constant threat. Every household was assigned one or more leather buckets and they ran to fill them from springs, brooks and ponds and then kept a hand-to-hand bucket brigade going to extinguish the flames that threatened neighbors. One man was always assigned in the winter to keep a hole cut and open in the river ice, no matter how thick, so that water could be hauled up from the river too.

We collected alms and cared for the poor starting in the 18th century and had erected a homeless shelter by 1814. We built an academy to educate our children through the high school level by 1798.

Volunteers visited the sick and handicapped and formed an Aid Society during the Civil War. Young boys formed a volunteer mail corps to collect the letters written by WWI troops as they passed by the hundreds through Newburgh on their way to Europe. The boys would run beside the trains and take the letters and envelopes or addresses, then stamp and mail them so loved ones could read their sons’ last goodbyes.

We overcame fear and hardship to build a better life for our families. William MacGregorie landed at the mouth of the Moodna Creek, followed by Joshua Kockerthal at the Quassaick Creek and then Louis Gomez at the Marlboro Creek between 1683 and 1714, each leading his family and friends to what he hoped would be a new start after years of starvation, war and persecution in their old worlds. In a wilderness setting, they worked from dawn to dark, developed new skills, learned to communicate with and trade with the Munsee peoples who traveled these woodlands and set the stage for the towns that followed.

Women and children worked to build the first roads and men laid the first Hudson River Railroad line or dug the clay in brickyards that produced billions of bricks for Manhattan.

We had industrious, innovative minds. Daguerreotypes (the precursor to photographs) were created on the waterfront where New Windsor meets Newburgh. The Newburgh Steam Mills wove cotton and muslin not by water power (as had been the way in England and New England) but by steam engines.

That fabric factory lifted Newburgh out of a bad economic slide in the 1840’s when many businessmen pooled their resources to build a giant facility to compete on a world market. Steam power took a great technological leap forward thanks to Newburgh’s William Wright who invented the rotating steam valve that powered new types of engines to run steamships and power plants. Thomas Edison’s engineers spent weeks in Newburgh building and overseeing the construction of our early electrical generating station designed, thanks to the insistence of Newburgh leaders, with capacity for the whole city.

We nurtured artistic minds as well. Asher B. Durand, Jasper Cropsey and Thomas B. Pope all sat overlooking the Hudson and along the beautiful Moodna and Quassaick Creeks to paint their world-famous landscapes. The art of landscape design was born here at Highland Gardens, the studio run by Andrew Downing, the man who, before his tragic death in a riverboat accident, was contracted to design the U.S. Capitol grounds and New York’s Central Park.

We have connections to the wider world to brag about. Dennings Point Brickyards (where many Newburghers worked) supplied the bricks for the Empire State Building. On that same Dennings Point, two centuries earlier, Alexander Hamilton wrote many of the Federalist Papers that directed our national constitution. Firth Carpet Company produced the carpet for Radio City Music Hall. Wright Engine Works made the engines that powered the trolley over the Brooklyn Bridge as well as the turbines that created electricity from the damming of the Monongahela River.

Competitive rowing races began at Newburgh Bay in 1837 and for years our teams were the best in the nation. That same championship lineage applies to our speed skaters. Newburgh once housed the National Speed Skating Hall of Fame. Annually, thousands of veterans who were wounded in battle come to the Purple Heart Hall of Honor. It is here where Washington himself instituted and awarded that first Badge of Merit.

So, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, think of your own list of things to love about our community. Speak about them to others and, like the words on the little candy hearts, “Newburgh, Be Mine, 4 Ever.”